After my field season in Durham, NC, we began a 28 hour drive to Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in Gothic, CO. We packed my small hatchback full of clothes, food, and most importantly: our research gear. Although most of the drive is along highways through Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, the views on part of our journey were stunning. From Denver to Gothic, CO, we drove along winding passes through mountainous landscapes. After driving alongside hills painted with green pines and barren aspen stands, we were struck each time we were suddenly amid gently sloping amber plains. Not only was the view mesmerizing, it caused our minds to start thinking about some of the ecological process occurring in these landscapes. We discussed everything from nutrient cycling to species interactions. Questions formed such as: How did this heterogeneous landscape form? What drives local distributions of plant species? How do animals move across the highway safely; are there natural corridors around it? Clearly, we were feeling the excitement of the field season upon us.
The drive wasn't the only part of our journey that gave us time to think. As the road to the field station was still closed because of wintery conditions, we packed our backpacks full of essentials and field equipment and hiked a few miles into the field station. Since I am rather out of shape and felt the weight of my pack about thirty feet in, I questioned why I wanted to research this type of ecosystem. The journey was quite long, and the field season hadn't even begun yet. I have plenty of data from my system in North Carolina... why go through this for another field season?
Scientists test theories using experiments and observations. We aim to explain patterns in the natural world, but we understand that theories won't and shouldn't hold true in all systems . Although I am asking the same questions in both of my research systems, what I find in North Carolina won't necessarily be the same as what I find in Colorado. In order to fully understand how climate change will affect natural ecosystems in the long term, scientists perform experiments and make observations in a range of habitats. I really enjoy the sometimes long and bumpy journey to the field because I have the opportunity to test theories in different ecosystems. In addition to the journey, having the chance to work at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory affords me the opportunity to interact with scientists from all over the United States. It is an exceptional place to work if I want to understand how climate change might affect flowering communities. From long-term phenological data to the sheer number of experts living on campus, the journey is certainly worth it. Now... time to get back to work!
About this blog:
I created this blog as part of the Phipps Botany in Action Program, 2015 - 2017